Saturday, September 30, 2017


Airport chaos 9-28 because of computer failure

Two forces are hitting broadside the prevailing argument about what is right and good in government and the culture that supports it.  So far they haven’t even gotten to the level of most public discourse, meaning the great sloshing body of print, media, vid, blog, and facetweet that passes for culture on one level, though most people ignore it.  The most interesting recent version of this is a piece on Uncouth Reflections, a blog I follow though I don’t fit their demographics and am not entirely welcome.  They are privileged, educated, male, sort of retired, and opinionated.  They are also cute and lovable, in that endearing old white guy way.

The Mistaken” (one of the bloggers: all these guys have pseudonyms) wrote a numbered list of points he draws from the work of a prof named Stephen R.C. Hicks. “Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault”  Actually, Hicks is deconstructing the category of postmodern, esp. the “Frankfurt School” which my Netherlands friend calls “Frankfurter Schule,”  It’s a hostile approach, trying to be an autopsy.  I don’t choose a side in this argument, because I’m thinking on totally different terms, new grounds, but I've always had trouble figuring out this stuff, so I appreciate the list.  His premise is that "modernity," which is based on the rational and logical was good, but post-modern is just an emotional and political pushback against it.

My own grounds of anthropology are three-fold.  One is the scientific study of the neurological feat that is human thought (including the subconscious and the unconscious bodily functions); another is the social phenomenon of the Internet which completely redefines and may replace “money” and certainly shifts "community"; and the third, more traditional, is the ability to handle concepts without words, subverbal concepts which some call feeling.  These are complexities upon complexities that do not yet have political responses.  Politics need to be simple and emotional or they won’t “play.”

Let’s stick to Hicks, or rather “The Mistaken’s” list.  The idea is pitting mathematical/scientific  against emotional/justice ideas.  That is, the first entwining is the result of “modernism” or the Enlightenment, the use of scientific inquiry and mathematical reasoning in the service of “capitalism,” which is the management of money, which presumably leads to progress.  At least, the industrial revolution.  Post-modern, in contrast, has a strong social justice/third-world Marxism component and reacts to the excesses, destructions and oppressions of capital.  (This particular argument usually ignores the arts dimension of capitalism.)

The corrective to Hicks in terms of the "felt" arts is beautifully explicated in an article poetically called “A Dark/Inscrutable Workmanship.”  The subtitle is “Shining a ‘scientific' light on emotion and poesis.”  The author is Maria Takolander, a professor at Deakin University in Australia.

I have yet to find a really comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Internet.  Most people are so riveted by social media that they don’t go beyond that.  But just the fact that Takolander and myself can think in such similar ways and make contact across the planet, thus endorsing and supporting each other, is highly significant and momentous in terms of culture and where "civilization" might go next as we hominins struggle to fit our circumstances, which are both old and new, cumulative and reconfiguring.

There is a stepping effect with electronic breakthroughs.  Radio was only sound; then comes the image on television but the providers were limited to "stations" and broadcast companies.  Next we went to video, cheap creation and broadcast, private home viewing on discs, etc.  Anyone can send the equivalent of what were once commercial movies.  Now bots and hacking.  Whole countries are shutting out the internet, but it finds ways to get back in.  Secondary businesses run things like block lists to manage spam, to search, to redirect, to disguise. 

Internet transmissions are roughly the equivalent of the sub- or un- conscious.  We are not aware of them affecting railroads, traffic signals, power stations, and so on.  Yet they control our lives according to “algorithms“ we don’t know, don’t understand, and that constantly change without our knowledge or permission.  It was a shock to find out that Facebook had a category of posts against Jews that they directed to Jew haters, fanning the flames.  There it was, on a list of hundreds of points of focus.

How was it that Russia could work in complex and organized ways to corrupt and break our communications?  But there is no satellite that can “surveil” messages from the sky the way we can see buildings and explosions.   Even when there are such monitors of email, real and entitled messages can be suppressed.  How long will it be before the Repubs repeal the Freedom of Information Act?  It’s 51 years old and has overthrown government and corporation oppression again and again.  The law says all government emails must be saved?  When you try to get rid of them, they come back somehow.

Post-modern is already past-modern.  Now we’re looking at “post-hominin” without any more insight than a monkey contemplating a keyboard.  Just chatter.  Every evolution includes or transforms what has gone before.  Even one’s appendix is still there, perhaps looking for a purpose which it may have found without us realizing.  We only pay attention if it's infected.

At its best, the video series called “Halt and Catch Fire”, a title which is a computer command meaning every program turns “on” at once so the machine locks up and must be rebooted to work, is demonstrating that human relationships give rise to the computer breakthroughs which then present new dilemmas for the humans.  I’m sure that at first all the sex was there to keep viewers, but porn was the impetus to developing much of the internet.  Like Wikipedia.  Research it.  "Halt and Catch Fire" is the state of our government.  Hugh Hefner is dead.  Our scandals are about money.  When lives are ended by natural disasters, we respond with bookkeeping.

We are not just blind to our own subconscious whirls and vortexes, but also to the newest forming dynamics of the world, like the consequences of accumulating carbon dioxide.  What else is out there that we didn’t see, taste, or feel?  

We are already inventing household-by-household creation or collection of energy: solar, wind, chemical reaction -- going off the grid.  We can barely think about the new cell phone grid forming in Africa, including the management of “money.”  We know the calving of Antarctic ice and the opening of the Arctic sea have begun, but we’ve just realized that the same forces are changing the food value of our crops and possibly melting old afflictions out of the ice alongside the mummified baby mammoths.  First the wonders, then the worries.

An undetected drone -- maybe quite small -- just “bombed” a munitions depot near Russia, only needing a “match” to start a huge spectacular explosion.  Rising water in Texas did the same thing just by counter-intuitively getting chemicals wet.

And all the while we’re tediously checking paper credentials at the airports.  But do you really want a convenient identity chip implant if it means that people with the means and motives can find you anywhere, anytime?  If it means whole categories of people can be made invisible and helpless?  Think about it both rationally (modern) and emotionally (post modern).  People are dying.

Friday, September 29, 2017


Sometimes flipping phrases over is useful.  What if, instead of Magic Realism, we considered Real Magic?  What we’re really considering, I will say, is a tension between rationality and emotion.  (This is putting aside the contrast between practical and aspirational.)

This issue is now made more problematic by science leading us to the admission that everything we “perceive” is only a coded reflection of whatever it is outside our individual bodies that provokes our sensory world into creating thought patterns.  The amazement is over our ability to share them, to believe that when I see "green", I see the same thing you do, even though you can see for yourself that one eye sees "green" as a slightly different shade than the other eye does.

We’ve also come to understand that language in the form of spoken or written words are what make consciousness possible, what IS consciousness (we talk to ourselves), except that the arts constantly use wordless sensory information in the form of paintings, symphonies, dances, and so on — all of them shaped by consciousness or by whatever it is in our bodies that is just below consciousness, maybe defined as emotion,”felt thought”.  (To some, that’s another oxymoron, but not to me.)  Does what makes me happy also make you happy?  Often enough.

For decades I’ve been trying to understand deep non-institutional “religious” or spiritual phenomena by using the terms of words and rational thought.  This is “rationalized magic.”  It all began with a seminary exercise that asked, “Can one call the Holy Spirit?”  Certainly some people thought this was part of congregational ministry, alongside social action, moral guidance, historical continuity, compassion and other ecclesiastic business.

When I first found and joined the Unitarian movement — as expressed at First Unitarian Church of Portland in 1975 — the members were very much focused on rationality and public thought, the major books of the Seventies about religion in Western terms.  Then it went off into two channels that seemed to feed back and forth into each other: narcissism (self-help) and something I would call feeling except that I want to reserve that term for a concept more dignified; anyway, a kind of feel-good emotional state.  This is related to the culture-wide shift from the New England Puritanism so focused on rationality that they were mocked as “God’s frozen people,” to a kind of California hot-tub approach, everyone in the soup together.  I left.  Others left because they felt the elitism of some was approaching fascism.  I agree that this is “real” and a good reason to either fight or leave.

Denominations (“named Xian Protestant institutions” that front for congregations) are reflections of the larger secular culture.  Roman Catholics are a little less so, and the same for Jewish institutions.  But in the end I don’t care about any of that formal stuff because they all have factions and fractions that cling to variations.

David Breeden is the “Senior Minister, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. Poet. Translator. Humanist.”  He is squarely in the classic academic category of the rational: a translator of Greek, but with degrees in the arts.  He has the same degree of MDiv from Meadville-Lombard that I have, but too recent to have the internal MA from the U of Chicago Div School as I do.  Not his fault -- the rules changed.  

Breeden is a good representative of the classical historical version of Unitarianism.  He posts on Medium, that trendy platform that I left because they tried to tell me what to say, and his most recent post is “History Is What You Do.”  He’s quoting Camus in a useful and timely way.
Breeden’s penultimate thought is: “I’ve seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learned it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.”

Notice he doesn’t say “for who loves you”.

What or whom one loves is emotional, sometimes unconscious, perhaps not chosen or reasonable, but always describable by some metaphorical coding of consciousness as explored by George Lakoff, always drawn from whatever is outside one’s skin.  On fire, rising up, enlightened. That is, rational thought about experience, made emotional by the body’s physical response.  Those responses might be in terms of heart beat or eye blinks, might be about guts, might be controlled by the molecular response-loops of the hormones and nerve synapses.  Emotions are the “realest” things we have and they are “whole body” — not just brain “thought” according to the coding rules of one’s culture and the conditioning of one’s experience so far in life.

Some of the roots of emotion are reptilian in origin.  In-skin responses that helped the lizards survive.  Some are mammalian, which are closer to us and therefore more recognizable, but no less uncontrollable or there would be no addicts, much less violence, and maybe less obsessive sex.  But until recent hominins, no mammal could say anything with language (unless you consider “meow” a word) and therefore they had to think in art-sensory concepts.  Going back to that level is often helpful, as therapists know.

In fact, when one thinks about the state of all institutions that are supposed to manage culture and bind people into societies, it’s important to preserve a grip on the simple maintenance of hominin occupations: keeping warm, preparing food, creating order, pleasing and being pleased by other people, wearing clothes and ornaments, making things.  All sustained by habit patterns generated inside the body, and using material objects from outside the body but available to be acted upon.

Our times are so confusing that people just shut them out and do whatever they must or ride on the other fellow’s agenda or react to some kind of false signals from advertising, or deep dive into chemical dependence.  Some of us — diabetics, HIV-infected, dialysis patients, aging and so on — have been forced into a dependence that will kill us if lost in the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, war, greed.  Technology that can save lives will end them if the technology is removed. (Oh, Puerto Rico!) And yet technology is our most effective “magic.”

Notice that Breeden’s ministry is not with a "church" but with a “society” which is a very New England term for groups of people — maybe literary or scientific — who gather to consider ideas.  Maybe not saying “congregation” or “church” would excuse them from some of the supernatural elements of Xianity.  I’ve participated in discussions when UU groups, called “fellowships” because they were too small for ministers  (and maybe too defiant), began to think about calling themselves “churches” after all, for the sake of presentation to the public as “religious.”  Maybe they were too big to be fellowships, wanted to call a minister, thought being a “church” would help them grow and participate in the civic pan-organizations of congregations.  They were emotional discussions with a thin veneer of rationality.

Recent national events vividly illustrate mammal hominin emotions (“anyone not like me is an enemy and must be eliminated or enslaved”).  It’s an open question whether Greek philosophy emerging from an historically specialized and privileged body of thought has much to say about the interpenetrating and constantly shifting multi-species on a planet with few, if any, safe places.  

Whether or not we can call the Holy Spirit, we CAN call poesis to abide with us.  That'll do.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Now that I have a weak grasp of “colonial” and “post-colonial” terms as they apply to thought and visual art, I’ll venture a little further.  I’m relying on the Wikipedia entry for magic realism.  Comprehensive as it seems to be, I wish I knew who composed it — it may have been several people, but at least one of them is probably South American, judging from the examples.

Briefly, I’ll say that writing in the category of magical realism often has fantastical elements in a real world setting with enough detail to be convincing, and that the author may be mysterious as to his or her motives, which is what makes the category relevant to both political persuasion and the accusation of hoaxing.

Several forces are clearly confusing the issue.  I compose this oxymoron (a self-contradictory phrase) deliberately because Magic Realism is an oxymoron.  The category mixes what is normal -- assumed to be real, provable, concrete -- with the unaccountable, mysterious, hard to believe.  This is what the people of the United States are currently experiencing in most extraordinarian South American terms!  Is there anything that could be more surreal than officials of North Vietnam contacting the Repubs back-channel to ask them to explain Trump?  Yes!  A hoaxer calling Jared Kushner's lawyer with bogus info about wicked emails and being taken seriously -- evidently because such emails do exist!  And then there is Kushner registering to vote as a female without anyone noticing.

Our overwhelming “natural” events of earthquake, wildfire and hurricane — traumatic as they are in the ghastly moment — are mentally and emotionally dislocating, begging for explanation in the aftermath.  Even in more comfortable circumstances many people by now have tried drugs that mess with minds -- even more than alcohol or hardship (cold, dehydration, starvation, sleeplessness, illness).  North American kinds of magical realism (misery lit, dystopias, sci-fi, revolution, time travel) rise up to meet these situations.  We love our “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander” shows as "safe" unreality.  But we have a tendency to mistake “House of Cards” for reality in spite of the way it is stylized.  We think that's really the way White House people are.

Magical realism is said to embrace myths and legends ascribed to “primitive” cultures encountering “modern”, “scientific” cultures.  The Blackfeet have stories to account for fossils and geographical anomalies.  One example is the little form made by the hollow in a primal sea creature called a baculite.  The form looks a bit like a buffalo, and so it is pulled into a story about the need for buffalo, a buffalo-calling stone: iniskim.  Personification of inanimate objects is a natural human response.  We bark our shins on a chair and curse the chair for hurting us.

I used the idea of a boulder erratic in one of my “12 Blackfeet Stories”.  Blackfeet imagine that these boulders can travel for their own reasons.  (Actually, they were carried across the prairie by the major glaciations.)  They imagine that the huge stones chase Napi — who wouldn’t?  But in my story, I was thinking of an actual boulder on the way out to Heart Butte that has become a point of veneration, collecting little tobacco bundles and feathers with ribbons as tokens of prayer and hope.

In my story the boulder became a door — this is almost Christian if you think of the tomb of Jesus — and it opened into the great underground space where the buffalo went, which is a suggestion made by the recent Blackfeet.  I used it because the series of stories follow a downward trajectory to the true but unbearable Starvation Winter, which I mixed with wolfing via poison.  The boulder tale is where the sequence turns around to go upward.  It’s a "Jesus" story, so I included White Buffalo Woman, an equivalent personification.

Current scientific knowledge is so fabulous that some people classify it as “religious,” their category for things that have to be taken on faith because they are unbelievable.  Photos of the vast cosmos or the minute traces of atoms are hard to believe, let alone closeups of skin mites.  Thus people feel justified in considering global warming to be just another Noah’s ark story and therefore consider escaping to another planet to be more realistic than adjusting our daily lives to eliminate greenhouse gases.

One point of labeling something as unreal, superstitious, mere magic, and so on, is that it eliminates the need for action.  But another contravening aspect is that we are curious, we want to know what’s behind the trick, behind the curtain.  Who is tricking us?  What are their motives?  Who is to blame?  Where is the line between reality and fiction?

Another Blackfeet story, this one I meant to be a radio play while I was teaching.  The reality was that Galen Upham stole one of the open red Glacier Park tour buses and drove it up the very high pass called “Going-to-the-Sun”, which was named to suggest that such a thing was possible.  At the pass the bus wrecks and Galen is pinned in the wreckage.  A horse approaches, ridden by a young man very much like Galen except that this is time travel so he’s from the past.  The play is their conversation, as the sun comes up.  Not "Outlander" but "Skylander."

At the time, the kids wrote all sorts of wild stuff, mostly from movies, and would end abruptly with the phrase, “And then I woke up.”  I didn’t think they should do that.  I wanted them to stay in the fantasy and come to some kind of new concept, but none of us really knew how to do that.  Looking at the theories of Magic Realism, it’s obvious now that these stories can be about reconciling the old world of the indigenous people with the new world of economic tourism, being owned by some corporation back East that imposed rules for their own reasons.  To remain "marketable" the modern people must imitate their ancestors.

A whole genre of fiction about Native Americans depends on “medicine men” and witchy old women as plot devices.  Another closely related genre is that of beloved Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, which can engage people in big arguments about their power and reality.  At least they introduce some powerful ideas.

I would suggest that there is another "magic reality" bifurcated genre that believes in sex/love as salvation, magically lifting one into a safe and blissful life.  Pink religion.  Romance.  Lately a more “metallic” or silicon version has been the robot who provides everything.  Even sex/love.

Every human being is a walking hoax, the reality of the body’s survival managed by the shifting dashboard that is a brain, in hopes of figuring out the sensory information with organizing categories and theories that will provide success.  The task of the humanities is to supply alternative interpretations that can code a world full of craziness and complexification.  

White supremacists claim that African Americans are tainted or insufficient, and then they get their genome chart done and must realize that they have African American ancestors themselves.  And then the hardcore scientists will say that DNA studies are never conclusive, only suggestive, but then they also say that the color of skin is so minor a molecular variation that it means nothing.  Salvation is a matter of behavior.

Thus we go on in our pursuit of truth in spite of constantly being diverted by dreams and wishes.  Write down your stories.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Can the phenomenon of male gay groups be discussed as “colonies”?  Male gay persons are defined by a scattered, low-frequency, recurring biological difference from the main mammalian sexual desire spectrum that is marked enough to make that person feel different in a way that can have radical consequences if the dominant culture stigmatizes or even criminalizes that desire.  Normally it appears with the onset of adolescent puberty, so it is clearly an aspect of sexuality.  As if a teen didn’t have enough trouble already.

Sexuality is so plastic and individual, that it can adapt to many conditions.  One thing that can happen is early sexualization, possibly physical but also maybe psychological desire diverted from something else, maybe as basic as survival for a small child.  Equally radical in results is the connection of sexuality to violence, which is not necessarily bound to gender or age.  However, violence is bound to domination, the ability to get away with it, so it depends upon a difference in power between the dominator and the victim, like that between a powerful adult and a child or woman.  The impact [sic] on both sides is major.

Since power is seen as a mark of superiority, those who are uncertain of their superiority will use violence and will be looking for undefended vulnerable others.  Maybe the vulnerability will not be gender-related, but minority status or enemy identity.  That is, the uncertainly powerful (cops?) will try to “colonize” certain categories (blacks?).  We’re seeing this demonstrated by unemployed, uneducated, and undeveloped white males waving tiki torches.

Because desire is normally private (art is not normal) in case it is not conventional or simply nonexistent, for centuries we’ve known of individuals who were gay and revealed as such either because they were radicalized, flaunting their own individuality, or because they were radical and their gayness was revealed by enemies as proof of decadence.  Maybe there hadn’t been homogenous [sic] groups that could be called colonies of gay men until they burst onto the scene in the Sixties and Seventies.  

One theory of this group forming in San Francisco about the time of the Vietnam War is that the military, esp. the Navy, was so vigorous about identifying gays and throwing them out (not that some of them minded and some non-gays were even able to see the advantages of claiming that status) and so inclined to just dump them at the closest port (SF) that they naturally formed into a group, because they had a double bond: gay and military.  They were also full of questions about what was good and right — many confused messages to process -- which created a political solidarity supported by a worldwide revulsion against colonizers everywhere.  

It’s pretty easy to see these men as a colony with language and practices, even boundaries within the SF housing scene.  What had once been a here-and-there happening, now had enough power to be a voice.  Occasional attempts at domination by the larger culture were resisted, mostly successfully.

Then came the same overwhelming force that had pushed the indigenous people into minority dependent status: disease.  This time it was not smallpox but HIV/AIDS imported from Africa, the same as smallpox was when it  spread through Eurasia 10,000 years ago.  Disease is the ultimate colonizer.

A dispersed colony is called a diaspora, and surviving gay men spread to friendly beaches everywhere.  A core remained and showed their heroism by faithfully nursing those who were not just desired but loved.  Gay males are not just like each other in every way.  Some created pair-bonds and some built on those as families, raising children.  But those who treated adolescents as sexual partners — maybe avoiding violence but not other forms of unavoidable dependence and authority — triggered cultural revulsion and criminalization to the point of suppression.

The resulting pulling-away of the mainstream left the most vulnerable adolescents — the ones with same-sex desire — without points of attachment for understanding and support.  This was ameliorated with drugs, self-abuse, dark defiance, and predation for survival.  The public response was incarceration.  Yet most het adolescents, both genders, in the process of forming their own morality, were able to accept gay males.  In fact, many females found them to be good friends and a relief from the sexual scrimmage of mating.  This is in our literature.

There is a large and growing world body of gay male literature, some of it classic: Whitman, Pasolini, Oscar Wilde.  Netflix always lists gay films.  But they are on a long spectrum according to violence, health, inclusiveness, political activism, art, religion and so on.  It’s impossible to separate porn from mainstream, esp. if you take the French attitude that violence is a more intense porn than sex.  What little bit of exploration I’ve done was — well, I can’t think of an adjective that isn’t a double entendre.  

One “kind” is the stable group of men who love each other — a kind of commune — and express it physically, which the larger culture calls porn and which they sell as such, in the way that the Amish sell quilts as a sort of ethnic craft.  The tiny bit of one vid that I saw was domestic: gardening, cooking, laughter while standing around joking — what the English call “happy families” but without the irony.  I’m told that gay men are embarrassed to own these vids, maybe because they reveal the love behind the sex.

This is a defense I’m making, but it’s also a gesture at decolonization, to take away the idea that a biological difference is necessarily depraved, but not to take away their right to be a unique group by forcing them to include women or even children if they don’t want to.  Individual liberty to make choices is the ground of my defense, but I can’t really defend why I would want to think about gay male colonies because I am not and could not be included in any.  I’m in the position of a white person writing about Native Americans, though I can’t write a book pretending to be a male gay.  Or can I?  Should I?  Should a gay male pretend to be me or vice versa?  Why would that be stigmatized?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Reading the essay about post-colonial thought has provoked me to look for definitions.  They are “boxes” which confine thought, but they can also be platforms.  I’ve put all the quotes from Wikipedia in italics.

First off is defining a colony.  Formally, it is “a country or area under the full or partial political control of another country, typically a distant one, and occupied by settlers from that country.”  “A settlement, dependency, protectorate, satellite, territory, outpost, province.”

But then, derived from that first definition of colony is “a group of people living in colony, consisting of the original settlers and their descendants and successors.  A group of people of one nationality or ethnic group living in a foreign city or country, community, commune; district, ghetto "an artists' colony.”  We talk about “ex-pats”, ex-patriots.

Next:  Postcolonialism or postcolonial studies is an academic discipline that analyzes, explains, and responds to the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. ... It also examines the effects of colonial rule on the cultural aspects of the colony and its treatment of women, language, literature, and humanity.”

And then the writing that focuses on the above definitions and theories:  Postcolonial literature often addresses the problems and consequences of the decolonization of a country, especially questions relating to the political and cultural independence of formerly subjugated people, and themes such as racialism and colonialism. A range of literary theory has evolved around the subject.”

Many of my cohort on Twitter belong to this area of thought because they have self-selected as Native Americans, defining reservations as colonial remnants — maybe still colonies.  This idea cuts two ways: first, that their thought and history is an intellectual property, an owned natural resource, and that they have entitlement to it.  A subset is the recovery of the original language and life-ways.  Second, that they must not be confined to being Other, but must have full entitlement to the main culture, oppressive though it might be.  

Forgive me for quoting so much, but I’m just learning these terms and people myself, so these lists are for my own reference, though I hope they might be useful to you.  “Amongst prominent theorists are Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, Bill Ashcroft, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Leela Gandhi, Gareth Griffiths, Abiola Irele, John McLeod, Hamid Dabashi, Helen Tiffin, Khal Torabully, and Robert Young. Another important theorist is Harvard University professor Homi K Bhabha, (1949 – ). He is one of the most important figures in contemporary post-colonial studies, and has developed a number of the field's neologisms and key concepts, such as hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence.”  I assume he’s Eastern Indian by ethnic heritage, which means colonized, but now he is a professor at Harvard, which I assume means he’s now a colonizer but also Harvard is a result of English colonizers.  I don’t know whether he ever addresses North American indigenous people.

As far as I know, none of the above theorists are NA indigenous people.  I had to look up the four concepts above.  I’ve downloaded them to study and will discuss them in a later post.  Some people will want to do that themselves.  It’s ironic that an ethnic Eastern Indian thinker from a “colony” with an older and more elaborate civilization than England should be discussing this subject.  (Shouldn’t it have been England that was colonized by India — or whatever they called themselves.)  Isn’t it even more ironic that theories devised by an ethnic Eastern Indian, British-educated, should be used to address the North American indigenous people mistakenly called “Indian,” and oppressed by countries that were originally colonies of England -- like the USA?  Clearly, these boxes are pretty asymmetrical and leaky.

French Algerian theories of deconstruction have made us realize that the old assumptions of colonizers sneak along underneath our “modern” discussions even though the colonies are now technically independent.  We see Ambivalence all the time on the Blackfeet reservation.  An amusing but touching example was the recent reactions to processing a bison donated by Boyd Evans.  There is always an assertion that Blackfeet have a special claim to the animals, since they lived off them for millennia, but when it came to butchering the beast, some found it stomach-turning!  Others were willing to sample raw liver.  It seems that there is a range of indigenous reactions.  Nothing "essentialist" as the technical term is for what is all the same for the category.

This vital experience was much different than the abstract arguments which Bhabha called “enunciation.”.That is, to be understood something must be described.  Now many Blackfeet kids are prepared to explain how to cut up a bison and to tell how it smelled, felt, tasted, and so on.  This connected them to their ancestors in a vivid and unforgettable way.  But even the white kids know what it’s like.  Is it okay for them to tell others about it?  Or are only enrolled kids entitled to do that?

Bhabha proposes a “Third Space” where categories are not frozen, but are dynamic, interacting, and capable of progress.  “As a result, the hierarchical claims to the innate originality or purity of cultures are invalid. Enunication implies that culture has no fixity and even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.”  

Quite aside from the difficulty of learning to “see” a different culture one has not experienced, these theorists write such complex labyrinthine prose that it’s nearly impossible to understand.  Bhabha won a “bad writing” contest with the following sentence:  “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to "normalize" formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”

The over-elaborate prose seems to be the result of trying to talk like established stuffy English writing, not quite grasping the principle of simplicity.  As well, the English veneration of Latin allows the creation of new words (“neologisms”) by adding particles to pre-existing roots.  Also, antique Latin grammar rules applied to English don’t work very well as guides for contemporary writing.  Ironically, “the discourse of splitting violates rational enunciation.”  In short, muddled thinking makes bad sentences.

But then, mercy!  It’s tough to think about ideas no one has had before.  The “Third Space” can be a dark and passionate place where emotion IS a form of thought, sometimes obscene.  What is obscene?  “The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined. . .”  (Any unknown culture is suspected of being “kinky.”)  This prissy little definition is totally inadequate.

The oppressor finds any resistance to be obscene, while the oppressed often use obscene language in their resistance.  In the first instance, the idea is righteousness and entitlement.  In the second instance, the idea is that emotional outrage is too high for “nice” to be relevant — intense language is part of defiance.

When I first came to the Blackfeet rez in 1961, I was told that any child in my classroom who called me a “Napi-aki” should be taken to the office for punishment at once.  The compound word only means “white woman,” since Napi is the mischief-maker identified with anything unusual, outside the norm, and “aki” is the particle that means “woman.”  It’s not an epithet unless the context and tone of voice makes it derogatory, maybe the way someone would say sarcastically,  “Okay, princess,” to a girl thinking she was superior.

But in the phrase is the lingering echo of white oppressors forbidding with harsh punishment the use of Blackfeet language.  In the Sixties this was still so strong that the first task of Piegan Institute, before they began reteaching the tribal language, was to demonstrate that people would not be whipped for it anymore.  That it had become a respectable thing to do.  So Darrell Kipp with his Harvard degree had to show he could speak Blackfeet without harm or loss of dignity.  It was not just that they were forced to speak English, which the immigrants from European who were non-English-speakers also had to endure, but that children were so harshly punished for anything.  The historical cultural assertion was that children should not be punished.  This conviction still persists in many tribal members.  But some have discarded it to the point of abusing their children, just as whites do.

So this short discussion is now “post-colonial” and if a white person wrote a story about a kid punished unjustly for speaking Blackfeet who was so outraged that he ran away, putting himself in danger, that would be “post-colonial literature.”  Would I be justified in writing that story, since I am not Blackfeet?  I would be working in print.  I’m not sure any Blackfeet I know could write such a story in printed Blackfeet, because the language itself is oral, but they could tell it on a video.  This would be hybrid, wouldn’t it — because the medium is modern.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Sorting as I've been doing for months, I came upon an article I had saved with the sub-title of “Re-envisioning Magical Realism’s Relationship with Fakery” by Maria Takolander and Alyson Miller, of Deakin University near Adelaide, Australia.  Published in “Postcolonial Text,” Vol 9, No.13 (2014)  This tag won’t link to the specific article, but google it anyway.  Lots of amazing good stuff.  Australia is a goldmine of thought.

Let me tell you two little personal stories first.

One Christmas I got tired of all the exploits and wonders that my correspondents claimed in their annual reports, so I decided to create one of my own.  I explained that a Samoan man, huge but quite a bit younger than myself, had showed up in the congregation I was serving as a UU minister at the time.  He was very attentive and sympathetic and I discovered that he was a marvelous artist, a wood carver.  Over time, as two isolates, we were drawn together and now I was notifying my friends and family that we had decided to marry and move back to Samoa where I would act as a UU missionary.

People believed it.  I threw in some details I got out of Wikipedia.  Some were concerned that I wasn’t thinking this through carefully enough.  They knew about my history with a sculptor twice my age and thought I should consider the possibility that I was repeating it.  When I revealed that I made the whole thing up, they were angry.

The other story is just a kind of cultural twitch in America: the habit of calling old women “young lady.”  It’s thought to be a great compliment, just what an old woman would want.  Maybe at worst, a bit of teasing.  In truth, it’s insulting, wrong, and hides an underlying contempt for old women. Sometimes I take the trouble to fight it and sometimes I don’t.  If I do, people often get angry.

The journal called Postcolonial Text” is a refereed open access journal that publishes articles, book reviews, interviews, poetry and fiction on postcolonial, transnational, and indigenous themes."  As a loose translation for people who haven’t run into this context before, the focus is on defined groups that have been colonized — that is, controlled by bigger powerful organizations like the European countries that colonized other cultures whenever they found them -- and now these theories are considering the effects across the arbitrary nations formed out of that history while at the same time searching for the original people of that land.

The argument of this article, as I understand it, is that hoaxes and magic realism are closely related when it comes to this context.  The ideas that the “settlers” have about the people they are displacing and — even more the assumptions of folks back “home” who like to enjoy “literary tourism” by reading about exotic places — will swallow anything, even the impossible.  But beyond that, cultures that are whole and complete in their relationship to where they are can seem magical to those tamed and blinded by book-learning and authorities.  Sailors bring back home the stories, and they had better be good.  Anthropologists write accounts that are as much projection as analysis.

Examples given by this article are in this list below, which will surprise you because it mixes the “respectable” and even exalted tales with those flatly labeled hoaxes.  I have not included the one that was in the primary title of this article, though it was why I even knew the article existed.  I found it by googling the “hoaxer” who is also a writer of “magic realism,” often in poetry.


Angela Carter The Bloody Chamber”
Jeanette Winterson  “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit”
Tim O’Brien  “The Things they Carried”
Gunter Grass  “The Tin Drum
Mudrooroo   “Master of the Ghost Dreaming”
Alejo Carpentier (French-Cuban)  “The Kingdom of this World”  (African-Haitian)
Toni Morrison (African- American)  “Song of Solomon”, “Beloved” 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez  “Macondo”, “One Hundred Years of Solitude
Norma Khouri (Muslim-Australian)  “Forbidden Love”
Margaret B. Jones (Native American)  “Love and Consequences”
Merlinda Bobis “Fish-Hair Woman”
Salman Rushdie  “Midnight’s Children
Miguel Angel Asturias  “Men of Maize”
Helen Demidenko  (Ukrainian-Australian)  “The Hand That Signed the Paper”
Sherman Alexie (Native American)  “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fightfight in Heaven”
Araki Yasusada  (Japanese poet)  “Doubled Flowering”
Arundhati Roy  “The God of Small Things”
Richard Flanagan  (Anglo-Australian)  “Gould’s Book of Fish
Kim Scott (Aboriginal-Australian)  “Benang

One of the most egregious hoaxes is not listed here:  “The Education of Little Tree” by Asa Earl Carter, a white Supremacist with Nazi affiliations who wrote a stereotypical novel about an NA boy, a story that people love.

This paper that I'm referring to is a “clean” discussion, dealing with the texts and how they are read rather than delving into the characters of the writers.  Neither does it consider the cynical political and marketing motives of the publishing fates of the individual books, though they note that ethnic autobiography  is “highly valued for its exotic appeal” and for “the status it confers on the consumer as an enlightened, sympathetic, and politically correct individual.”  That’s the real difference between a hoax and a revelation of an Other life — the reflection on the reader’s pride and their appetite for titillation.

These analysts assert the idea that “a fictional autobiography inevitably exposes the rhetorical nature of all autobiography.”  K.K. Ruthven argues “authenticity is simply a rhetorical ‘effect’, supplying 'the spectre of authenticity'.”  Pretending a text was a letter is one device of authenticating, or that a hidden manuscript unearthed after the death of the author is another.  So far as I know, none has been presented as screams forced out of a captive by a torturer, but that would be fitting for our times of suffering and lies.  The more sex and violence are presented as evidence of reality, the more they are accepted.  Up to a tipping point. 

So far, our current political scandals have reached that tipping point for the majority of people, but we’re told that about one-third of voting citizens still do not believe they have been hoaxed by the president.  The irony is that the chief generator of those lies seems to believe them himself.

Irony is the most slippery part of this discussion.  Saying the opposite of what is true in order to ACCUSE the truth of domination is to risk the dominator crushing the truth-teller. Only if the readers can recognize what is being shown in shadow form, a metonymy of reversal, is the narrative fulfilled.  Many people today cannot tell what is true, even on a conditional basis.  The video cameras lie even more convincingly in that first-hand recounting, even more vividly than one’s own experience.  But there’s a kind of fascination in that hallucinatory shifting of perception.  It’s how brains work.

More to come.